Project for Tachistoscope [Bottomless Pit]


By Ady Tang

In William Poundstone’s “Project for Tachistoscope [Bottomless Pit]”, it begins with a “Start” command in the center of the page encircled by user-friendly menu accompanied with seven attractive icons which divide the piece into seven separate pages. The separate icons allow the reader to read at his or her own pace. In the background, a blue circle throbs repeatedly and increases and decreases in size as it reappears in every page throughout the piece. Within the seven pages, they describe examples of subliminal messages used in the advertising industry as well as the technicalities of how they are used to sell a product through “conscious and unconscious control”.

In the first slide titled “System Requirements”, Poundstone explains that the piece is “an attempt to use rapidly flashed (“subliminal”) words and images to complicate the perception of an electronic text”. In other words, he clarifies that he has inserted subliminal elements into the piece to allow the readers to have a taste of what he is describing and reveals how the methods are used. Although the subliminal elements are not effective as they are not trying to sell anything, it does demonstrate that these elements are not distracting to the audience. On the contrary, it makes the piece more visually appealing. The author jokes to the audience to stare into the blue circle and describes the best conditions to experience the full effect: “For best results, stare at the center of the pulsing blue circle. Tachistoscopic effect works more reliably with faster CPUs (2 GHz+ Intel or equivalent) and CRT monitors”.

In fact, in the title page, before the piece has even begun, there was a yellow circle in the middle to the throbbing blue circle with the number “78” on it that disappears within less than a second. Only with repeated viewing could one confirm the existence of such yellow circle. Although the meaning of the circle is unclear, it perfectly validates the power of subliminal messages. Even if it is not consciously known, the number “78” remains in the mind unconsciously.

In a slide entitled “The Subliminal Con”, it explains that subliminal messages were so successful and so persuasive that it was banned: “Pre-empting likely legislation, the National Association of Broadcaster banned subliminal ads.” Despite of the fact that subliminal ads have been banned before 1958, whether advertisers today still used subliminal messages is unknown…even if they do use it, consumers may never know it!


Poundstone’s “Project for Tachistoscope [Bottomless Pit]” is a visually pleasing and interactive piece as it draws attention to the topic of subliminal messages in respect to its use and its effectiveness accompanied with examples in the advertising industry.


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